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The Renaissance painting found by chance in a London bedroom

Madonna and child NOT FOR REUSE

Courtessy of Dawsons Auctioneers

V. M. Traverso - published on 01/15/23

The 16th-century depiction of the Madonna and Child was sold at an auction to help pay for the owner’s nursing home bills.

When Siobhan Tyrrell, an auctioneer working at British Auction House Dawsons Auctioneers, was asked to review any potentially valuable items inside the house of a 90-year-old woman in a London suburb, she was expecting to find at best some fine china. Instead, to her surprise, she found an original oil painting from the 16th century hiding in plain sight. 

The painting, depicting the Madonna and Child, had been given to the woman by her father some 30 years earlier. The owner of the painting had no idea that the picture was an original work from a Renaissance master completed more than 400years ago. When, in her 90s, she was diagnosed with dementia, her family asked Dawsons Auctioneers to look for valuable items in her property to help finance her stay in a nursing home.

NOT FOR REUSE Depiction of Madonna and Child by a Follower of Filippino Lippi
This 16th-century depiction of the Madonna and Child was found inside a woman’s bedroom in London.

“Most of the contents of the house were of relatively low value, so when I went into her bedroom I was utterly shocked when I saw this early religious painting hanging above her bed,” Tyrell said in a statement. “It literally glowed with quality!

After a quick look at the painting, the auctioneer knew she was dealing with a work from the Renaissance. “As a General Valuer with over 25 years experience, I recognized that it was an exceptional work from the 16th century,” she said. 

When Tyrrell notified the woman’s family, they asked for the painting to be put up for auction in the Fine Art sale held by Dawsons Auctioneers.

Experts were able to attribute the work to a follower of Filippino Lippi, a Renaissance painter from Tuscany, Italy. The son of famous 15th-century painter Filippo Lippi, Filippino Lippi was famous for his realistic bas-relief lines and warm color palette. One of his masterpieces is a fresco depicting scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, such as the Annunciation and the Assumption, in the Carafa Chapel of Rome’s Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Like those frescoes, the newly found painting, titled “Madonna with Child Christ,” stands out for the warm color palette and the realism of the scene.

NOT FOR REUSE Frescoes in Carafa Chapel, in Rome's Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Filippino Lippi
Filippino Lippi painted the frescoes adorning the Carafa Chapel in Rome’s Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. The newly found painting was attributed to a follower of his style.

Depictions of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child abound in art history, but it was only during the Renaissance that artists started to focus on the realism of their subjects. Here, the Blessed Mother is depicted with a moving motherly expression as she sets her loving gaze towards her son. The Child himself shows remarkably realistic baby features, like chubby cheeks and curls, and an expressive gaze. The bright colors of the main subjects stand in contrast with the more sober tone of the landscape in the background. 

The painting was eventually sold at Dawsons Auctions for around $320,000. 

As explained by the auction house, the family of the woman who owned the painting unaware of its value was struggling to ensure enough funds for healthcare and accommodation costs after her move to a nursing home following the onset of dementia. The profits of the sale will finally mean that all costs will be covered

“Fittingly, given the subject matter of the painting itself, this wonderful picture has really turned out to be a godsend to them all,” Dawsons Auctions wrote in a statement. 

ArtCatholicismHistoryVirgin Mary
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